Does "Welcoming the Stranger" Require Advocating for an "Open Border"?
January 17, 2019
Updated January 22, 2019
1 comment 320 views
There are two oft repeated phrases that come from CRC assemblies and agencies when they politically advocate about immigration. One is that we must "welcome the stranger," the other that "immigrants are a blessing and not a burden."
Let me say up front that I believe, and would advocate, that Christians, CRCers or others, practice a welcoming the stranger posture with respect to anyone in our neighborhoods and communities, even those who are immigrants, and even those who are illegal immigrants. I live in an area of my city (Salem, Oregon) where perhaps half of my neighbors are Hispanic, almost all first generation from south of the US border, many of whom are probably here unlawfully. I live with them as if their residency status is irrelevant. Because it is. I should "welcome the stranger" and so I do. Without qualification. Full stop.
But does the mandate to unqualifiedly welcome the stranger also apply to government? And when I advocate for government policies, should I presume the mandate to welcome the stranger applies to government just as it might apply to people, or churches? Many would say "yes."
My answer is a resounding "no." Government has a different role to play in society than the role I am to play, or that my church is to play. By analogy, I may be required to turn the other cheek but if government does that as well, no one gets punished for crimes and our society is on the road to anarchy. While I should live with my neighbors without regard to their citizenship or residency status, government has a different role to play. And to the extent I help government (as a citizen) fashion its immigration policy, I have to think differently.
So just how does assigning a different role for government work out? Like this.
When any nation's government allows immigration, it affects the lives of its own citizens. In line with the second oft-repeated CRC phrase (that "immigrants are a blessing and not a burden") I believe that in general, in an overall way, immigration is in fact more of a positive than a negative for the United States. But that's a pretty abstract thing to say and certainly not the only thing that must be said.
In my life, that of a practicing attorney, I've noticed that some are indeed very "blessed" by immigration, both lawful and unlawful. For example, large companies that hire lots of relatively unskilled labor love the influx of unskilled labor into the country. Put bluntly, it keeps down their labor costs because it increases the supply of unskilled labor. This is "Economics 101" working itself out.
But then there are others. For example, where I live (Oregon), an abundance of south-of-the-border labor creates a lot of competition for small construction industry operators. For instance, all-immigrant roofing crews create a lot of competition for other roofing operators.
Eliminate the immigrant competition and all the other roofing operators will be able to charge more, and vice versa. Again, this is Economics 101 at work. And as the other roofing operators lose, I and other "roofing consumers" win. For me personally, my cost to re-roof several structures in the last couple of decades has been less because of immigration, including illegal immigration. I've had several roofs redone.
So how does the government "do justice" to all involved, as well as look out for the general welfare of the US economy (assuming the latter is a legitimate goal, a subject matter for discussion all by itself)? I can't offer a complete answer to that question without writing at least a short book. But there is one thing I'm sure about: it is counter-productive to justice, at least "justice to all," when any political activist pushes only one side of the facts and focuses exclusively on only one side of the argument. It might be considered effective lobbying strategy to be one-sided, but it is still counter-productive to justice. Beyond that, it tends to create an intractable political divide. And is that not where we now, certainly as a nation, and increasingly as a denomination?
The bottom line: if we pronounce, without qualification, that we should "welcome the stranger," and include in that pronouncement that the mandate applies to government as well as to people and churches, we do in fact advocate for an "open border" policy (government can’t “welcome” when it doesn't allow entrance, even if to one person), even if implicitly. And that's not promoting overall justice.
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Doug, thank you for your thoughtful post about how we as individual Christians should welcome the stranger, and how governments should act to protect its citizens from harm.
Let’s say a church group wants to take a group of believers on an evening boat trip on the ocean, to fellowship and pray together, maybe have a meal together and get to know each other. They book a boat that holds 50 people safely, and publish the date and time on Facebook. The smart thing to do would be to ask for RSVPs, then count and vet the people who want to join in and make sure they do not have any ill intent. For example, if you get a request from someone who is on the run from the police for recent train and boat robberies, you would respectfully decline their request to join, and probably should work with police to arrest the person and get them the justice and restoration they need. But we don’t do that restoration on the boat. We would have guards or walls at the entrance to the marina or boat, and verify the identity of those who want to board. We would use force to keep the criminals off the boat, if they tried to sneak in or bust through the check-in desk at the gangway.
So the first thing a group of Christians would do to keep their participants safe is make sure no one who has ill intent comes on board. The only way to do that is to find out who wants to board, and check them out.
If this group of Christians did it the wrong way, they would just post an invitation, “anyone who wants to join, meet us at the dock at 5pm!”
Then, what if 100 people showed up? Should we “welcome the stranger” and let any and all board the boat? What if the overcrowding caused children and others to get pushed off the side of the boat while underway, killing or injuring them? Did we really do the right thing by letting any and all board without vetting or controlling the numbers?
What if the additional weight of the people causes the boat to sink or capsize, killing all on board? Can we say the organizers of the outing implemented the right, caring policy for all by “welcoming all the strangers onto the boat”?
The Gallup polling organization did a poll of half a million people in 152 countries between 2015 and 2017, and found that nearly 120 million foreigners would migrate to the United States if they are allowed to enter. The current US population is 328 million, so that additional 120 million would overwhelm our social safety nets and cause the country and current citizens severe, perhaps unrecoverable problems. Is open borders really the best, caring policy for a country to have? Or should we have strong walls, and a big beautiful door for those who want to join us to go through, get vetted and authorized?
Checking the prospective boarders of a boat, or prospective migrants to a country, and limiting the numbers for the safety of those already on board, is the moral and Christian caring thing to do. We have walls around our churches, with doors that are open during worship times, but even then, we have walls around the pastor’s office, walls around the church safe that holds the collection money, and walls around our nursery care area. We vet people who want to enter past these walls to the pastor’s office, the safe and the nursery, and for good reason. Should we “welcome the stranger” into the walk-in safe, or “welcome the stranger” into the nursery care area where our children are? Of course not. So the “welcome the stranger” exhortation is not absolute and mindless. It does not mean we should throw out common sense or put those we love in danger.
The principle of “welcome the stranger” is a good one, as Doug mentions we should welcome strangers in our neighborhoods, and welcome them into our churches. But governments are put in place by God to help protect the people and provide justice…and just letting any and all comers into the country is not compatible with those goals. We want to welcome immigrants here, but we must have walls and make sure people come to the big beautiful doors, the official ports of entry, so we can vet their background and make sure they are someone the citizens of the country want to come in.
We should strive to avoid hypocrisy on this issue, where we put up moral, legitimate walls to protect our homes, schools, and churches, but then somehow we for political reasons we want to deny walls that are put up for the same reasons to protect our country. There are many examples of this hypocrisy showing those pushing for open borders with walls around their own houses or businesses: https://www.redstate.com/brandon_morse/2019/01/14/watch-new-series-walls-across-america-shows-us-democrats-walls-around-homes-starting-george-soros/
For years, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship International has helped redeem broken lives. As Christians, we believe all people have value, deserve mercy, and are loved equally by God—even the most outcast. We as Christians help restore hope and share God’s redeeming grace with prisoners and their families around the world. But we help them and minister to them in the jail. We don’t advocate for opening the walls of the prison and letting them enter freely into our homes, schools and nursery rooms or walk-in safes of our churches.
Similarly, if there are criminals or even non-criminal poor who break the law by entering the country illegally, we are not under an obligation to ignore that law-breaking and “welcome the stranger”. If an escaped prisoner breaks into your house, you don’t “welcome the stranger” and try to rehabilitate him in your house. You call authorities to pick him up, take him back to prison and show him God’s love there, minister to him there and offer the forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration that God brings. If someone sneaks into the United States, we can show Christ’s love for them, help them get rehabilitated and restored in their home country’s prison if appropriate, or help them with food and resources in their home country if they are poor. In addition to the immediate need for food and water the poor need, we should also give them help to fix the harmful political environment that caused them to be poor in many cases. Many countries are living under totalitarian, socialist or communist leadership, which takes all the resources for a few elites and hurts the poor and powerless. We should work to spread freedom, capitalism and the rule of law around the world, to help these oppressed people in their own countries. We are not under any obligation to take people out of their current place and move them to another place to help them.
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